Disabled and Elderly Sue Pennsylvania to Restore SSI Disability and Retirement Benefits

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Community Legal ServicesMore than 359,000 low-income elderly, disabled, and blind Pennsylvanians who are unable to work have filed suit sued against the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare in Commonwealth Court to restore their full disability and retirement benefits that were reduced earlier this year without legally required notice and reviews.

People who are severely disabled or blind, and those 65 years or older who can no longer work, who have minimal resources, and a limited work history, may receive federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) of $674 per month.

Since 1974, Pennsylvania has paid an additional monthly State Supplementary Payment (SSP) to all SSI recipients. Last February, Pennsylvania reduced the SSP by 19% to $22.10 per individual. Individuals receiving SSI and SSP combined now receive only 78% of the federal poverty level.

The lawsuit, filed on November 30, alleges that Pennsylvania reduced the SSP without regard to required rulemaking procedures and with only 13 days notice to those affected by the cut.

When an agency seeks to amend a regulation, as the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) did here, state law requires the agency to solicit public comment and to submit the proposed amendment to the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC). The IRRC, whose members are appointed by legislative leaders and the governor, then evaluates the proposed amendment to determine whether it is in the public interest and is consistent with state statute. DPW failed to do so, the lawsuit states.

This class action lawsuit, Constance Naylor v. Department of Public Welfare, was filed by Community Legal Services, a legal aid law firm in Philadelphia, and Dechert LLP, providing pro bono counsel, and will be heard in Commonwealth Court.

“It is very difficult to live on SSI alone,” said Constance Naylor, a 60-year-old disabled Philadelphia resident affected by the cuts. “For me, the reduction of $5.30 per month was significant. It made an impact on my monthly budget. It equals the cost of three SEPTA tokens, or two to three co-pays for my prescription medicine, or almost two loads of laundry. I had to cut back in other places to replace this missing money.”

“When an agency amends a regulation, it must follow the law, whether the regulation affects the poor or the rich, the young or the poor, the disabled or the able-bodied” said Michael Froehlich, an attorney with Community Legal Services. “This suit is simply asking Pennsylvania to follow its own laws when it amends its regulations.”

The lawsuit asks the Commonwealth Court to reinstate the SSP benefit to its earlier amount and refund the money to those whose SSP was reduced since February 2010.